In my online travels, I have noticed that a lot of folks consider baking your own bread as an almost essential ingredient to living "the simple life." While I would certainly not say it's essential, I do understand this sentiment. Baking your own bread is a deliberate step away from the predominant culture of consumerism and instant gratification. For those with large families to feed, baking bread can really save money. And it must be one of life's simplest pleasures to enjoy the yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread filling your home. This is a pleasure that people have enjoyed for many centuries.
It's a pleasure I think everyone should enjoy at least now and then. So I decided to do a basic bread making tutorial. Of course, most of my readers already know how to make bread...but perhaps there are a few out there who aren't sure how to go about it. If you are one of those timid souls, this post is for you. :)
I am by no means an expert, and in fact I have only been making my family's bread for a few months. So I am only sharing how I do it. There are infinite variations on baking bread, and many of them are probably better than my own method! But here we go:
Basic White Bread: A Tutorial in 10 Easy Steps
1. First, I take the yeast--I use the traditional kind, not quick rising--and stir it into 1/2 cup of warm water until it is dissolved. I have found the the amount of yeast needed varies according to how warm the house is. On a warm summer day, 2 tsp is enough. In the winter, 4 tsp is a good idea. I know this is less yeast than most recipes use, but I find this amount works just fine. Honestly, I don't think it matters much how much yeast you use, unless you want to be able to time things exactly. If you don't use quite enough, you'll just have to wait a bit longer for it to rise. So I prefer to use a smaller amount most of the time, since it saves money.
2. In a large bowl, I mix 2 cups of unbleached flour, 2 tbsp wheat gluten (optional; this makes the loaves more chewy), 2 tbsp sweetener (I use organic cane sugar, but honey would work too), and 2 tsp sea salt.
3. I measure out 2 cups of warm liquid--it can be milk, water, or half of each. What I normally do is measure out 1 cup of cold homo milk, and then add 1 cup of boiling water. This gives a nice warm temperature without being hot (temperatures too hot will kill the yeast). I have found that the coconut milk you buy in cartons at the grocery store works nicely for making bread too, but it is sweetened, so if I use that I leave the sugar out in the second step.
Milk obviously makes a slightly richer tasting loaf. Bread made with only water is still good, just lighter.
I add some melted butter to this liquid. Or sometimes olive oil. I never measure, but I guess I'm using around 2 tbsp.
4. I pour this liquid mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir it up. Then I add in the yeast and water, and stir it up again.
5. I add scoops of flour one by one (not measuring), until it gets too difficult to stir. Then I dump it out on the clean countertop and start to knead. I scrape the bits out of the bowl with a butter knife.
6. I knead the dough for around 10 minutes, sprinkling it with flour as needed to keep it from being sticky. This is a nice time do some daydreaming. When the dough looks and feels smooth and springy, it's done. If you aren't sure how to tell if it's done, just keep an eye on the clock. 10 minutes will usually do it.
7. I cover this lump of dough with butter or oil, and place it back in the bowl. I cover it with a damp dish towel and let it sit until it looks about doubled in size. This takes around an hour, or less if the house is really warm.
8. I punch down the dough, divide it into three parts (using a sharp knife), form these chunks into rough loaf shapes, and place them into greased bread pans. This will make 3 small loaves. Or you could make 2 larger loaves, it's up to you.
I have done some experimenting over time, and I found that butter is by far the best thing to grease pans with. It's the only thing that works perfectly every time.
9. Once the dough has doubled in size again (it should be at the top of the pan), I bake it at 345 degrees for 30 minutes. (I used to bake it at a higher temperature, until Melanie shared that you have to bake bread at a lower temperature if you want a soft crust.)
10. As long as the bread looks nicely browned, I take it out, put a towel over the loaves, and let them cool at least somewhat before slicing into one. Very hot bread does not slice very well. But don't let it cool down all the way! Fresh, warm bread spread with soft butter is one of the tastiest things I know.
I hope this little tutorial will encourage a few people who have never baked bread before to give it a try. It really isn't difficult. As long as you don't kill the yeast with too much heat (something I did the first time I made bread, or rather bricks), I guarantee you'll end up with something that your family will enjoy. Happy baking!